Posted On:March 2017 - AppFerret

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Cloud, backup and storage devices—how best to protect your data

2017-03-31 - By 

We are producing more data than ever before, with more than 2.5 quintillion bytes produced every day, according to computer giant IBM. That’s a staggering 2,500,000,000,000 gigabytes of data and it’s growing fast.

We have never been so connected through smart phones, smart watches, laptops and all sorts of wearable technologies inundating today’s marketplace. There were an estimated 6.4 billion connected “things” in 2016, up 30% from the previous year.

We are also continuously sending and receiving data over our networks. This unstoppable growth is unsustainable without some kind of smartness in the way we all produce, store, share and backup data now and in the future.

In the cloud

Cloud services play an essential role in achieving sustainable data management by easing the strain on bandwidth, storage and backup solutions.

But is the cloud paving the way to better backup services or is it rendering backup itself obsolete? And what’s the trade-off in terms of data safety, and how can it be mitigated so you can safely store your data in the cloud?

The cloud is often thought of as an online backup solution that works in the background on your devices to keep your photos and documents, whether personal or work related, backed up on remote servers.

In reality, the cloud has a lot more to offer. It connects people together, helping them store and share data online and even work together online to create data collaboratively.

It also makes your data ubiquitous, so that if you lose your phone or your device fails you simply buy a new one, sign in to your cloud account and voila! – all your data are on your new device in a matter of minutes.

Do you really back up your data?

An important advantage of cloud-based backup services is also the automation and ease of use. With traditional backup solutions, such as using a separate drive, people often discover, a little too late, that they did not back up certain files.

Relying on the user to do backups is risky, so automating it is exactly where cloud backup is making a difference.

Cloud solutions have begun to evolve from online backup services to primary storage services. People are increasingly moving from storing their data on their device’s internal storage (hard drives) to storing them directly in cloud-based repositories such as DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive.

Devices such as Google’s Chromebook do not use much local storage to store your data. Instead, they are part of a new trend in which everything you produce or consume on the internet, at work or at home, would come from the cloud and be stored there too.

Recently announced cloud technologies such as Google’s Drive File Stream or Dropbox’s Smart Sync are excellent examples of how are heading in a new direction with less data on the device and a bigger primary storage role for the cloud.

Here is how it works. Instead of keeping local files on your device, placeholder files (sort of empty files) are used, and the actual data are kept in the cloud and downloaded back onto the device only when needed.

Edits to the files are pushed to the cloud so that no local copy is kept on your device. This drastically reduces the risk of data leaks when a device is lost or stolen.

So if your entire workspace is in the cloud, is backup no longer needed?

No. In fact, backup is more relevant than ever, as disasters can strike cloud providers themselves, with hacking and ransomware affecting cloud storage too.

Backup has always had the purpose of reducing risks using redundancy, by duplicating data across multiple locations. The same can apply to cloud which can be duplicated across multiple cloud locations or multiple cloud service providers.

Privacy matters

Yet beyond the disruption of the market, the number-one concern about the use of for storing user data is privacy.

Data privacy is strategically important, particularly when customer data are involved. Many privacy-related problems can happen when using the cloud.

There are concerns about the processes used by cloud providers for privacy management, which often trade privacy for convenience. There are also concerns about the technologies put in place by cloud providers to overcome privacy related issues, which are often not effective.

When it comes to technology, encryption tools protecting your sensitive data have actually been around for a long time.

Encryption works by scrambling your data with a very large digital number (called a key) that you keep secret so that only you can decrypt the data. Nobody else can decode your data without that key.

Using encryption tools to encrypt your data with your own key before transferring it into the cloud is a sensible thing to do. Some cloud providers are now offering this option and letting you choose your own key.

Share vs encryption

But if you store data in the cloud for the purpose of sharing it with others – and that’s often the precise reason that users choose to use – then you might require a process to distribute encryption keys to multiple participants.

This is where the hassle can start. People you share with would need to get the key too, in some way or another. Once you share that key, how would you revoke it later on? How would you prevent it from being re-shared without your consent?

More importantly, how would you keep using the collaboration features offered by cloud providers, such as Google Docs, while working on encrypted files?

These are the key challenges ahead for cloud users and providers. Solutions to those challenges would truly be game-changing.

 

Original article here.


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Blockchain Will Transform Customer Loyalty Programs

2017-03-16 - By 

Loyalty programs have proliferated across travel, retail, financial services, and other economic sectors. The average U.S. household participates in 29 different loyalty programs, according to the 2015 Colloquy Loyalty Census. The result is a maze of point systems and redemption options, with cumbersome processes for exchanging points among program partners. Loyalty programs are ripe for some kind of disruptive innovation that would make them easier to use.

Blockchain may just be the answer. Best known as the technology behind bitcoin, blockchain enables a ledger of transactions to be shared across a network of participants. When a new digital transaction occurs (for example, a loyalty point is issued, redeemed, or exchanged), a unique algorithm-generated token is created and assigned to that transaction. Tokens are grouped into blocks (for example, every 10 minutes) and distributed across the network, updating every ledger at once. New transaction blocks are validated and linked to older blocks, creating a strong, secure, and verifiable record of all transactions, without the need for intermediaries or centralized databases.

For consumers juggling an array of loyalty programs, blockchain could provide instant redemption and exchange for multiple loyalty point currencies on a single platform. With only one “wallet” for points, consumers would not have to hunt for each program’s options, limitations, and redemption rules.

All loyalty programs are vulnerable to a blockchain revolution, but the travel industry is perhaps the most at risk. Travel loyalty programs tend to be complex and multicurrency, making them different from retailers, which typically run simple discount programs, or from banks, which offer cash back or a single currency that can be spent easily across a range of merchants. In some cases, travel loyalty program points differ by journey component (flight, car rental, hotel, dining), leading to fragmented point collections.  While estimates vary widely, we estimate that the typical “breakage” rate (meaning the share of points not redeemed) is about 10%–20%. Plus, it can be difficult for the average person to accumulate enough points to earn a meaningful reward.

The Benefits of Disruption

Many industries have experienced disruption, due to technologies that successfully reduced inefficiencies and frictions, often disintermediating established players in the process. Large travel companies, such as airlines and hotel chains, know this from painful experience: They pay billions of dollars in commissions each year to Priceline, Expedia, and other online travel agencies (OTAs), which have transformed how consumers book flights, hotels, and rental cars. Blockchain-based loyalty platforms could be another such disruption.

Both small startups and large-scale technology companies are eyeing the possibilities this presents, and some are teaming up. IBM, for example, is partnering with startup Loyyal to develop blockchain infrastructure for loyalty and rewards programs. Travel companies with loyalty programs, whether stand-alone or part of a larger alliance, will have to figure out how to respond.

Early adopters could benefit considerably. First, blockchain could help relieve a large balance-sheet liability that many in the industry are facing. Loyalty programs have long relied on cobranded cards and partnerships to sell points and generate incremental revenue. But the number of airline seats and hotel rooms available for redemption in recent years has been limited by near-record occupancy and load factors. The result has been a growing volume of unredeemed points, which new accounting standards have turned into a headache: Revenue attributable to the value of loyalty points must be deferred until the miles are redeemed.

Adopting blockchain would enable companies to rapidly add and maintain loyalty partnerships without adding complexity to their programs. A robust, frictionless partner network could mean many more redemption options outside of the core travel product, thereby creating a much-needed release valve for these growing balance-sheet pressures.

Second, blockchain would enable businesses to break out of the loyalty program mold of narrowly defined, one-size-fits-all programs and redemption processes filled with customer hassles. Consumers increasingly expect personalized (not merely segmented) travel offerings and digitally enabled one-stop services; the growth of OTAs is in part a testament to that. Blockchain would allow both large and local partners to be added seamlessly, making the crafting of on-trend offers much easier, while virtually eliminating the back-end irritations of point redemption.

 

Caveats for Adoption

What shape are blockchain-based loyalty networks likely to take? Initially, each loyalty program might look to develop its own solution, but over time smaller loyalty programs might choose to band together to compete more effectively with larger ones. Ultimately, we expect to see the development of four to six blockchain-based loyalty networks, each anchored by a major airline, a major hotel chain, or a group of smaller travel companies. Options for building and maintaining the blockchain platform could include a joint venture with technology partners or with network providers such as banks or payment card processors.

Of course, the introduction of one or more blockchain platforms unifying multiple loyalty programs could pose a number of risks. Such platforms would add a transaction layer between consumers and program operators and merchants, likely generating a small per-transaction cost, which could grow over time, much like OTA fees. Customer data, a loyalty program’s most valuable asset, could become available to other network participants, even competitors. Currency devaluation is another risk in what is essentially an open marketplace for points trading.

To reduce these risks and avoid having their loyalty programs become commoditized, travel companies should get in on the ground floor of blockchain platform development. Participating in the initial structuring of commercial agreements and partnerships will be essential to protecting critical loyalty program components, including currency value, customer data and relationships, and transaction costs.

For any travel company considering an investment in blockchain, a few rules will be essential. First, they will want to participate in defining how currency is exchanged between programs — that is, how currency exchange rates are set, and any transferability rules. Second, they should seek to maintain exclusive control over their data, ensuring that only loyalty points, and not associated customer information, enter the transaction stream. Third, they should require guarantees that the platform is and will remain unbiased. Otherwise, traditional travel intermediary tools, such as paid search placements and exclusive promotions, could force companies into pay-to-play arrangements to ensure competitors don’t gain an advantage.

Travel companies, such as airlines and hotel chains, recognized too late the power of OTAs to disrupt the industry, and have been paying for that misstep ever since. The nascent state of blockchain for loyalty programs offers an opportunity to realize the value of disruption and shape its future impacts — if travel companies don’t wait too long.

Original article here.


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How Does Amazon Alexa Work? (video)

2017-03-14 - By 

In this video, “Hello, Alexa!”, we’re going to introduce the Alexa Skills Kit and teach you how to create skills, which are voice driven applications for Alexa. We will build and deploy a basic skill. This skill will be called the “Greeter” skill, and will say hello to users when they invoke the skill using the words that we specify.

 

Original YouTube video here.


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How Does Bitcoin Work? (video)

2017-03-12 - By 

We have all heard of Bitcoin.  This video gives a more technical explanation of how Bitcoin works. Want more? Check out my new in-depth course on the latest in Bitcoin, Blockchain, and a survey of the most exciting projects coming out (Ethereum, etc): https://app.pluralsight.com/library/c…
Lots of demos on how to buy, send, store (hardware, paper wallet). how to use javascript to send bitcoin. How to create Ethereum Smart Contract, much more.

Shorter 5 min introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5JGQ…

Written version: http://www.imponderablethings.com/201…

My Bitcoin address: 13v8NB9ScRa21JDi86GmnZ5d8Z4CjhZMEd

Arabic translation by Ahmad Alloush

Spanish caption translation by Borja Rodrigo, zordycorak@gmail.com, DFJWgXdBCoQqo4noF4fyVhVp8R6V62XdJx

Russian caption translation by Alexandra Miklyukova

.Original video here.

 

 


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